A comedian friend recently told me that his favorite thing about being a comedian is that there is “no front office.” No single authority figure. No one person who holds your career in their hands.
But that can sometimes be a double-edged sword. I mean there’s something to be said for having superiors, filters — shit let’s be honest… someone to whom you can pass the buck. If I worked for Hoover and I sold you a vacuum cleaner that didn’t work, I feel for ya, but it ain’t my problem. Call corporate. If you order a steak and it’s not to your liking, you can send it back to the kitchen…
But comics are not vacuums.
In an industry where, not only is the product you’re selling intangible and subjective, but *you* are actually the product, being a one-man/woman company isn’t always glamorous. If I sell you *me* and you decide after the transaction has taken place that you didn’t like me, what recourse do you or should you have? It’s not like I can offer to go backstage, come out and do the the show again… And it’s likely you wouldn’t ask me to even if I could.
I recently performed at an event where nearly two weeks later the event coordinator contacted me to tell me that the organization was totally dissatisfied with my performance. I’d been paid (AFTER the performance — mind you, sans complaints). Check cashed. To revisit my earlier metaphor, the entire steak had been eaten and paid for, but the diner still wanted to send it back. I was literally asked to cut the organization a check for the difference between what I was paid and what I felt I deserved. Yeah, really. I’m surprised my pride even allowed me to type that last sentence, but I did it to illustrate my point.
Most folks outside of the industry don’t have a clear understanding of all the things that impact the dynamics of a show… Format. Flow. Energy. Venue setup. It’s why people don’t understand why you can’t just tell them a joke on command at a 4th of July picnic and have it hit the same way it would in a club.
“Yeah we’re gonna put you up right after dinner has been served and have you do 15 minutes… Then we’re going to have our director come up and talk about how contributing to cancer research can greatly improve the quality and reduce loss of life… and then we just need you to do a tight 5 to close the show out.” Word? This incident is actually not the one this blog is about… but this happened as well. Strangely I did really well at the cancer fundraiser, but it was in spite of the format.
Anyway, when the show organizer called me up it was literally my worst comedy experience ever. Of course as a comic I know that there will never be a time when everyone enjoys your show equally. But just the suggestion that I send them back money based on what I felt I deserved made me boil because I had charged them a lot less than I normally would have based on the nature of the event. My pride puffed up and I told him he could have the entire check back. I was pissed, not just at the request, but at the manner and tone in which it was presented and the fact that the issue was not brought up until so far after the event. I handled the call with all the professionalism I could muster, but it was the angriest I’d been in years. I WISH I’d had someone else to field the call…
I talked to a good friend and comedy veteran later the same evening and he put things into perspective for me. First he told me no way should I refund the guy … because long after the anger over the phone call wore off, the fact that this man could tell a story about how ‘this comic he hired was so bad she gave the money back’ would burn me up forever. I recognized that he was right. So when I returned home later that evening, I politely informed the event organizer that I was sorry he was unhappy and that I hoped he found someone everyone would be pleased with for his next event. Of course I then received another curt e-mail from said organizer. But whatever.
Every performer knows that it’s impossible to hit it out of the park every night and that it’s his/her job to make the most of whatever situation they’re put in. But when you don’t or you can’t what are you supposed to do? You don’t wanna be like, “Tough titty.” or “F-you pay me.” because you always want to please your clients. But I’m learning that there’s little more you can do.
Any comments from other comics? Or just anyone out there… I’m interested to hear what you think.
(Sidebar word of advice: Never read online forum comments about yourself. NEVER! Gina Yashere warned but I didn’t listen).
(Sidebar #2: After creating that graphic in Photoshop, I realize it doesn’t really *say* “I’m not a steak.” It kinda illustrates something more along the lines of “No steaks allowed” but I’m not changing it. I just wanted to let you know that I know. ;) I have nothing against steaks who want to read this blog.)